Small Group Of White Supremacists Rally Amid Mass Counterprotests
A small group of white supremacist demonstrators rallied next to the White House on Sunday, one year after the "Unite The Right" demonstration by the same organizer turned deadly in Charlottesville, Va.
WAMU's Carmel Delshad reported that hundreds of counterdemonstrators converged in Lafayette Square, the grassy, White House-adjacent park, to meet the white supremacists. As NPR's Tim Mak reported, the counterdemonstrators began gathering in the early afternoon as music played and speakers talked about the importance of their protest.
According to Delshad, the police presence in the square was heavy: There were about a dozen U.S. Park Police on horses and police officers could be seen about every five feet throughout the park. In the hours before the event, police were blocking traffic and installing black metal fencing in Lafayette Square in order to keep the groups separate, NPR's Jeff Brady reported.
The event is scheduled to wrap up by about 7:30 p.m. ET.
At a Virginia metro station, NPR's Larry Kaplow reported that a small group of white supremacist demonstrators, some of them carrying U.S. flags and hiding their faces with bandannas, boarded a train to D.C. under heavy police presence.
"Go home, you're not welcome," one counterdemonstrator yelled.
Dozens of police were waiting for the group at the Foggy Bottom metro station in Washington, D.C. Mak reports that dozens of police — some on motorbikes, some in vans, some with K9 units — were at the scene, apparently waiting to escort them to the demonstration.
In a statement streamed on Facebook Live, Fairfax County Police Chief Colonel Edwin C. Roessler Jr. confirmed that one arrest was made at the Vienna metro station, where a group of about 25 demonstrators led by the event's organizer, Jason Kessler, met earlier Sunday afternoon. According to the Fairfax County Police, the suspect is an adult male who spit on two Virginia state troopers and was arrested for assault around 2:30 p.m. ET. The Fairfax County Police could not confirm whether the suspect was associated with Kessler's group or any group of counterdemonstrators.
In an interview that contained multiple racist claims, Kessler told NPR earlier this week that his top goal was to make sure the event was peaceful, and characterized it as defending the First Amendment.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said at a press conference Thursday that the city was prepared to secure the white supremacist event.
At the same time, she said: "We, the people of Washington, D.C., say unequivocally that we denounce hate, we denounce anti-semitism, and we denounce the rhetoric that we expect to hear this Sunday. ... Let us be in one voice and tell them that they are wrong. The only right message, and the message I hope we will carry jointly as Washingtonians, is love, inclusion and diversity."
Ahead of the event, D.C. police insisted they were prepared to keep everyone safe. "There is no city better equipped to handle large-scale events, including First Amendment events, than Washington D.C.," Police Chief Peter Newsham told reporters.
Newsham stressed the events would have tight restrictions on firearms, with no guns allowed on Sunday in and around the demonstrations.
He said authorities had been planning for the event for months, and during that time have closely studied how law enforcement handled last year's rally in Charlottesville. There, a woman named Heather Heyer was killed when a man drove a car into a crowd of counter-demonstrators. Dozens of others were injured during the event.
Charlottesville police, he said, were criticized for "failing to keep the two groups separate." Newsham added that today, "law enforcement's goal during the entire operational period is to keep the two groups separated," in order to avoid violent confrontations.
Hawk Newsome, the president of that Black Lives Matter chapter, told NPR last week that if people are "tired of the racism in America, if they're tired of these groups who have killed people for hundreds of years, then they should show up and stand with us in this safe space on Sunday."
Last night, crowds of students and their supporters rallied in Charlottesville at the University of Virginia to mark the anniversary and stand against white supremacy.
As NPR's Debbie Elliott reported, they are reclaiming that space because last year white supremacists "came with their torches and took over that part of campus."
The protesters' attention turned to the heavy police presence around the event, including unfurling a banner that said, "Last year they came w/torches, this year they come w/badges."
"They are here to control us!" protesters chanted, as Sandy Hausman of member station WVTF reported. "Security fences at the site and the large number of police on hand made organizers uneasy, and they quickly changed plans." The demonstrators started moving, marching for some two hours in the area.
The city's residents are also marking the anniversary this weekend with memorial events and a non-violence workshop.